Saturday, October 27, 2007

American Idol: A Joke

Another column from the mastermind of humor: Dave Barry
Talented? Get in line for 'American Idol' tryouts

It's early Monday morning, and on the north side of AmericanAirlines Arena is a densely packed crowd of thousands of people who truly believe they have exceptional musical talent. They've been herded between barricades, where they've been waiting patiently in the humid darkness, some of them for hours, not unlike cattle, except that instead of mooing, every minute or so somebody deep in the sweating mass belts out a random snippet of a song such as Unchained Melody, as if this person simply cannot hold his or her talent inside any longer without exploding in a blinding fireball of musical excellence.
Why are these people, some of whom have come great distances, here at this insane hour? They're here because they have a dream. It's a dream shared by millions of Americans, a belief that if they put themselves in the right place at the right time, and catch a lucky break, maybe -- just maybe -- they will get . . .
An American Idol wristband!
That's the most they can hope to get today. The wristband would entitle them to return two days later and wait hours again for a 30-second audition that will maybe get them called back in September, when they will get another audition that will maybe get them to a third audition for the actual Idol judges -- Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell -- who will conclude that, in the vast majority of cases, they suck. Each judge will indicate this in his or her trademark style:
• Randy, after calling the contestant ''dog'' to indicate that Randy has street cred and is a nice guy who likes the contestant personally, will regretfully note that the performance was ''a little pitchy,'' a technical musical term meaning that the contestant sounds like a cat trapped in a microwave oven set on ``popcorn.''
• Paula will do her best to form a coherent sentence saying something nice about the contestant, which is very difficult because the words are apparently being transmitted to Paula's brain one letter at a time from a completely different galaxy.
• Simon, with the facial expression of a man passing a live badger through his digestive system, will say something cruel. Simon is always irritated during auditions because (a) he wants a cigarette; (b) he's sick and tired of listening to these pathetic delusional people who, without getting a nickel, allow themselves to be exploited and humiliated by a TV show that makes millions and millions of dollars for . . . OK, for Simon . . . but he's still irritated because (c) he really wants a cigarette.
But most of the people waiting outside the arena this morning will never get as far as the judges, because most of them are just not as great at singing as they believe they are and their friends and moms have told them they are.
They don't know this, of course. They believe they are major talents, about to be discovered. When I talk to people in the crowd at random, almost every one, without being prompted, says, with real conviction, ''I'm going to be the next American Idol!'' It's actually quite moving, by which I mean scary.
Finally, at 6:35 a.m., the producers announce that they're going to start letting people into the arena, in groups of 50, to register for the auditions. The massive talent herd, still emitting random song snippets, lurches forward. I'm standing off to the side with several other professional journalists when an intense pony-tailed man in a tank top breaks away from the crowd to talk to us. He's 28-year-old Michael Westbrook, although he informs us that his stage name is Mikel Shane. He came from Eureka, Mo., to audition.
''Dude,'' he says, without being asked, ''I'm really talented.'' He says that in addition to singing, he has written a children's book, The Silly Dilly Dot.
''It's about punctuation,'' he says. ''It's very educational.'' He starts to explain the plot, but fortunately the line starts moving again.
''For real,'' says Michael/Mikel, ''I'm really, really talented.'' He turns and plunges back into the sweating mass of exceptionally talented people shuffling forward, inch by hopeful inch, toward their wristbands, and fame.
Now it's early Wednesday morning, and the contestants, wearing wristbands, have again gathered in the dark, thousands and thousands of them, forming a line that wraps around the arena. Most were here before 5 a.m., even though the auditions won't start for hours. There are TV crews moving up and down the line, and wherever they point their cameras, people burst into song. The prevalent singing style is the one popularized by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, where the goal seems to be to hit as many notes as humanly possible for every syllable of every word of the lyrics, so the singer's voice is constantly swooping up and down the scale until you want to scream STOP YOUR DAMN SWOOPING AND PICK A DAMN NOTE.
Or maybe that's just me.
In addition to singing, some contestants in the crowd are campaigning for themselves.
''It's time for a Latin American Idol!'' shouts a Latin man.
''It's time for a big-girl American Idol!'' responds a woman who could easily start at offensive tackle for the Dolphins.
Standing a few yards away, holding a press conference, is a man who actually has some say in who achieves Idolhood: Senior Producer Patrick Lynn.
''What we're looking for is originality,'' he says. ''We're not interested in people who are just trying to get on the show.'' (To me, this seems to rule out pretty much everybody wearing a wristband. But what do I know?) Lynn also says there are 12 audition songs that the producers have heard way too many times and are sick of, although he will not say what these songs are. (Although one of them has to be Unchained Melody.)
Finally the producers start letting people into the arena to audition. The press isn't allowed, so I can't witness the release of this tidal wave of pent-up talent. The weeding-out will take a couple of hours, after which the contestants will trickle back out. A few will be ecstatic, because they're moving on, which means they still have a remote chance to become famous household names like previous Idol winners such as . . . OK, for example that guy with the hair, whatshisname.
But the vast majority of the contestants will come out disappointed. For most of them, the high point of their show-business careers will be . . .
An American Idol wristband!
I decide not to wait around to watch the wristbanded rejects make their mass re-entry to Reality. I'd rather leave now, while the air is thick with hope, and all these people, despite the glare of the morning sun, can still see stardom shining brightly ahead.

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